Tag Archives: Jeff Lemire

Lemire and Nguyen’s Descender continues

Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen and others, Descender Volume 2: Machine Moon (Image Comics 2016)
––––  Volume 3: Singularities (Image Comics 2016)
——-  Volume 4: Orbital Mechanics (Image Comics 2017)

descender2descender3Descender4

Descender is a space opera in glorious watercolour with a sweet, vulnerable and potentially lethal little boy at its heart.

Two brothers who were torn apart ten years earlier are searching for each other in the context of the build-up to intergalactic war. The catastrophe that separated them involved huge robotic machines called Harvesters, which wrought havoc on the planets governed by United Galactic Council and then disappeared. Since then, the agents of the UGC and others who are simply robot-phobic have been trying to destroy all artificial intelligence machines. Freelance bounty hunters, ‘scrappers’, roam space ferreting out even the most innocent robots, ‘robbies’, including those that are essential to human life on tiny planets. The repugnant inhabitants of the planet Gnish have made a virtual religion of pitching robbies against each other in gladiatorial combat. Meanwhile, the UGC are secretly building their own version of a Harvester, in the hope of securing the software that will make it an invincible weapon; and The Hardwire, an underground robot resistance, is building a huge army and hoping to call on the Harvesters (whom they worship as gods) as allies in a great war to eliminate humans.

All of that is background revealed in the first couple of books as it impinges on the lives of a handful of vividly realised characters.

There are the brothers, Andy and Tim-21, who is not a human brother but a robot created to be Andy’s companion. We learn through a series of flashbacks that they were devoted to each other as small boys, that Andy’s mother treated Tim-21 with kindness and respect for his sentient nature, that Tim-21 developed a capacity for compassion, affection and loyalty. He was in sleep mode when the Harvesters struck and stayed asleep until accidentally woken ten year later. Meanwhile, Andy was filled with vengeful rage and became a scrapper.

The sweet-natured, vulnerable Tim–21 contains within himself the coding that will reveal the secrets of the Harvesters – so he is a sought-after prize by all the big players. He does have allies: Quon, the man who ‘created’ him, Telsa (not Tesla) an officer of the UGC sent by her father to retrieve Tim–21 (she is unaware that her father wants to weaponise his coding); and his brother Andy.

The little band is captured, released, split up, infiltrated. There’s plenty of explosions and bang-crash-pow. But the narrative is kept alive by the complex web of ambivalent relationships and the underlying Blade-Runner-ish question of what it means to be human: Tim–21 has a human ‘brother’ in Andy, and a robot ‘brother’ in Tim–22, both of whom claim his affection and also plan to destroy him; he grieves for his deceased human mother, sees Quon as a kind of father, and is claimed as a son by the leader of the Hardwire; Andy’s ex-wife Effie identifies as part robot since being patched up after an accident, and insists that her name is Queen Between; a barely-intelligent robot named Driller turns out to have deep reserves of remorse for a murderous act of revenge.

The back stories of the characters unfold, full of satisfying twists, as the adventure lurches forward. At the end of Volume 4, things are looking grim: one character is about to drown, the weaponising secrets are about to fall into the wrong hands, one of the little bands of adventurers is about to be wiped out by The Hardware, and the galaxy as we know it may well be about to be destroyed. Then Tim–21 recognises Andy on a screen and cries out, ‘That’s my brother!’ The end of Book Four.

It’s terrific story-telling, with moments of sly satire, as when the Gnishians are crowning a new king: instead of a crown they place on his head an orange hairpiece that is eerily familiar to anyone who follows US presidential politics.

I wasn’t drawn to Dustin Nguyen’s watercolour art in the first volume but either it’s settled down or I’ve settled in, but now I’m loving it. My conversion was completed by a series of spreads early in Volume 4 where three narrative strands play out wordlessly – across the top of each spread, the two Tims are alone on a lunar landscape; across the middle Andy and Effie/Queen Between revive their former mutual passion; in the bottom panels Quon and Telsa fight off a Hardwire guard and search for Tim–21. Each level has its distinctive style, and the sex and the violence are both handled with conviction but without prurience. At a couple of moments it may be hard to tell exactly what’s happening (my complaint about Volume 1), but there is good reason for that: sometimes the reader needs not to know everything.

According to Amazon, volume 5, The Rise of the Robots, will be published in January 2018, and it’s ‘what it has all been building to … as the origins of The Harvesters are finally revealed and the galaxy is thrown into all out war’. But Amazon says nothing of what happens to Tim and Andy. I’ll just have to wait.

Velvet and Descender begin

Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting and others, Velvet Volume 1: Before the Living End (Image Comics 2014)
Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen and others, Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars (Image Comics 2015)

These two books, on loan from a son, have been singing their siren song from by TBR pile for months. I lashed myself to the mast of serious reading for a long time, but I’ve finally succumbed – and a good thing too.

velvet1 Velvet is a spy story set in the 1970s, with flashbacks to the 50s. It’s a Bond movie from before those movies started reducing the violence to get PG ratings, with a glamorous woman protagonist who’s in her 40s but would pass for 25. Lots of gore, lots of exposed flesh (but nothing you wouldn’t see at the beach), cool gadgets (including a fabulous ‘stealth suit’) and – as you’d expect from Ed Brubaker, writer of Fatale and The Fade Out – intrigue aplenty.

Before the Living End begins with the violent death of a field agent accompanied by a ‘voice over’ reminiscing about the boss’s glamorous assistant. It ends with that assistant, former field agent Velvet Templeton, on the run, determined to clear herself of suspicion by finding the real killer–mole, and at the same time find out the truth about the terrible events that led to her removal from the field 17 years earlier.

Steve Epting’s artwork is slick and moody, capturing the Bond version of 70s cool perfectly. Colors [sic] by Elizabeth Breitweiser and letters by Chris Eliopoulos are impeccable.

descender1From international espionage to intergalactic AI in a single bound.

Descender takes place in the distant future, on the planets of the United Galactic Council. After a prologue in which enormous humanoid robots attack the eight worlds of the UGC, the main story picks up ten years later with a little boy waking from a long sleep on a small mining colony to find everybody else dead. The boy, it turns out, is a sentient robot named Tim–21 who was a companion to a human child.

A connection between Tim–21 and the gigantic destroyer robots is gradually revealed, and soon he and a band of allies – the scientist who created him, an irritating robot dog, a UGC officer named Telsa (not Tesla), a loyal muscleman, and an ore driller with enough artificial intelligence to be a dumb sidekick – are fleeing and fighting for their lives as any number of criminal and state bodies are out to get him, not always for reasons the reader yet understands. We do know for sure it’s not a case of ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’. In the background there is a Dantesque purgatory teeming with the souls of decommissioned robots who look to Tim-21 as their possible saviour.

It’s complex, ripping-yarn fun.

Dustin Nguyen’s watercolour art is beautiful, but not ideal as a story-telling medium: too often it’s too hard to tell what is happening. And Steve Wands’ lettering is sometimes too concerned with the design look, and not enough with legibility. But these are quibbles set alongside the wonderfully poignant images of the vulnerable child at the heart of the story.

As soon as I’d read these books I texted my son–supplier, who has two more volumes of each series. I guess I’ll be writing about them soon.